More than a dozen PR groups worldwide, including the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), are in a three-month quest to define “public relations”; it seems New York Times columnist David Carr might have beaten them to the punch.
In a January 29th, 2012 column about the twittering’s of Rupert Murdoch, “A Glimpse of Murdoch Unbound”, Carr managed to define public relations in a single word – “slop”.
Born in Hopkins, a small town in rural Minnesota, Carr is probably well familiar with the term “slop” – waste food used by pig farmers to fatten their hogs before being shipped off to slaughter.
As journalism major at the University of Minnesota he probably became familiar with the alternate definition of the word – repulsively effusive writing or speech; drivel.
In his article Carr wrote “The modern chief executive lives behind a wall of communications operatives, many of whom ladle out slop meant to obscure rather than reveal.”
To be fair to the public relations profession the New York Times columnist, whose roots resemble Mary Richards of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, might have confused the two definitions. But would a PR professional really dish out “slop” to fatten up a pig being led to slaughter?
In fairness to Mr. Carr, I am sure that his definition of “slop” leaned toward the drivel he perceives PR to produce on a daily basis.
The New York Times journalist is not alone is his negative perception of the profession. From the writer on a small town newspaper in Podunk, USA to the managing editor of a worldwide newsgathering organization, PR faces a crisis of perception – a crisis that the fresh paint of a new definition will not cover up.
Accord to Carr, “As American business has become more and more media savvy, its leaders have appeared in media less and less. Business reporters have to work their way past background conversations with underlings, written statements that state nothing, and that increasingly hardy perennial: the ‘no comment.’”
PRSA, an organization of 21,000 public relations and communications professionals across the United States, has become a main proponent of shutting media out.
In a response comment to an article on Newsroom Ink concerning the longstanding feud between PRSA and columnist Jack O’Dwyer of O’Dwyer PR Magazine; PRSA Vice-President of Communications Arthur Yann set a policy of banning all reporters from covering PRSA’s annual assembly. A PR society banning the press – a sad oxymoron indeed.
PR is not in need of a catchy new phrase that can be put to music and sung on America’s Got Talent.
What working journalists like David Carr are trying to signal PR professionals is “now is the time to clean up your act and start acting like the professionals your are suppose to be.”
It is time for all PR professional organizations worldwide to quit wasting time and energy trying to whitewash the profession with a new definition. Instead the time has come to start open and meaningful dialogs with organizations representing the media to improve relationships and understanding between the two professions.
As Komen for the Cure Foundation found out the hard way, in this digital age of instant communication one does not define itself, but is subject to the definition placed upon it by others. Is “slop” the definition PR really wants to muddle through?
This column was sent to VP-PR of PRS Art Yann for corrections but none have been received as of press time.